Sunday, March 31, 2013

"Urinetown" Is Highly Appealing, Despite the Title, in a Spirited Production from As Yet Unnamed Theatre Company

Josh O'Brien, Elaine Hackett, Carrie Cook & Carrie Chastain in
Urinetown, The Musical
. Photo – As Yet Unnamed Theatre Company.

Urinetown, The Musical

Music by Mark Hollmann, Lyrics by Mark Hollmann & Greg Kotis
Book by Greg Kotis
Directed by Sandy Richens Cohrs

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents copyright © 2013 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

For a musical conceived from a desire to put onstage what would not normally be allowed onstage, Urinetown has proven to be surprisingly durable and broader in its appeal than its creators might ever have imagined. After more than ten years in the canon of American musical theatre, it has moved decidedly from the fringe to the mainstream, a tuneful and engaging satire that is both intelligent and easily accessible to most all audiences.

It is also an apt choice for a local group like the As Yet Unnamed Theatre Company. Although they enjoy a reputation for good production values realized on a budget, Urinetown is a show that benefits from a low-rent approach in the trappings, with shabby costumes appropriately adorning much of the cast to reflect their poverty, and no overwhelming need for elaborate settings. It is a show that makes a virtue out of economy.

The story is a dystopian fantasy about a drought-stricken land in which the lack of water has led to changes in society that include a strict control on public restrooms. There are, in fact, no private restrooms, only public facilities that cost money to be used and are owned and operated by Urine Good Company, an evil corporation run by Caldwell B. Cladwell, played with oily, dapper charm by Larry Chaney. As the rate hikes to pee keep coming (always approved by the legislature, connecting government and big business in a cozy relationship we know all too well), the populace grows more and more discontent. Eventually, open rebellion springs up, under the leadership of young Bobby Strong, played with boyish naiveté by Josh O’ Brien.

It is all quite silly, and the fact that the show never takes itself too seriously is no small part of its appeal. The satirical targets are no less satisfying for being so obvious and include other famous musicals such as Les Miserables and Evita. When a very nimble Kathy Todd Chaney leads the ensemble, in league with the intense yet disciplined Brad Lambert in “Snuff That Girl,” any resemblance to the legendary “Cool” number from West Side Story is pure parody.

Other very good work comes from Jeff Ketterman, who gives Officer Lockstock more edge and swagger than I have seen in other productions, so that his narration with Little Sally is sharper in its irony. As Little Sally, Carrie Cooke is effectively cast against type, rendering the part with pinpoint comic timing, full-throated vocals and certain understanding of the character. As Penelope Pennywise, Carrie Chastain delivers a brassy, streetwise romantic that in her costume and posture is an unmistakable homage to the Rosie the Riveter icon from World War II. As the ingénue Hope Cladwell, Lauren LeBlanc makes an auspicious debut in the Louisville theatre scene, with a fine voice and an offbeat comic attack that is most effective.

Not one member of the ensemble falters in any significant way, and all sing and dance with surety of purpose. Director Sandy Richens Cohrs stages and choreographs with care, and the vocal arrangements of the chorus are particularly strong. Some of the singing lacks projection, but the delivery for the most part shows commitment and sturdy style. The second act stand out is “Run, Freedom, Run” – a great, gospel-tinged number that is justifiably famous. It can challenge any company who has not properly tended to the vocal arrangements, but the reading this company gives it does not disappoint.

This is a perfect show for the As Yet Unnamed Theatre Company, highlighting their strengths as a company that can deliver a quality musical theatre production, if on more modest terms than what usually occupies the auditorium one level down. Opening night enjoyed a full house, so they must be doing something right.

Urinetown, The Musical

March 29, 30, April 5, 6, 2013 @ 8:00 p.m., March 31, 2013 @ 7:30 p.m.
and April 7, 2013 @ 2:30 p.m

The As Yet Unnamed Theatre Company
The MeX Theatre, The Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed the play. The performance from the cast was outstanding.